Up until I entered junior high school, from the time school was out until after Labor Day my family leased a house near Ocala on Lake Weir. It was a special place and time: mornings were spent swimming and exploring; hot afternoons, naps and fishing for bream and tired out, in bed and asleep by nine.
The most exciting time in the summer was the Fourth of July. The day would begin by attending the celebration at the American Legion’s, Legion’s Beach. It was an exciting festivity with plenty of activities to be enjoyed and food to be eaten: there was a watermelon-eating contest; hot dogs and hamburgers; three-legged and other races; and, the highlight of the day, boat races.
After returning from Legion’s Beach, the afternoon was free for boys to be boys and that meant firecrackers. Usually purchased when driving to North Carolina, we always had firecrackers. There was an amazing assortment of explosives: small firecrackers called ladyfingers; the two-inch long, amazingly powerful M80’s; torpedoes, that would explode when thrown against a hard surface and everyone’s favorite, cherry bombs.
Cherry bombs were round firecrackers that had a fuse that would even continue to burn underwater. On most docks on the lake you would find fastened 12” lengths of pipe that were used to hold cane fishing poles. Our favorite trick was to place an unlit cherry bomb in the end of the pipe pointing towards the lake and then light a cherry bomb in the end on the dock. The resulting explosion would turn the pipe into a cannon, hurling the now lit cherry bomb up to thirty feet. It was great sport to waive an unsuspecting boat load of people close to watch us set off a firecracker and then watch them try to dodge the lit bomb headed their way.
Inevitably, there was one dad who would purchase hundreds of dollars of fireworks for a Fourth of July show. We would all gather at the land end of the dock, while the pyrotechnically blessed father and his beer soaked helpers would set up the fireworks on the lake end of the dock. As darkness would ascend, the exhibition would begin with an aerial bomb that would rattle windows; followed by roman candles shooting out over the lake; rockets bursting in air and a grand finale of all going off at once. Every year one of the helpers racing from a rocket soaring over his head would tumble into the lake. My favorite year was when at the beginning of the show, they accidentally set off all of the fireworks at one time: that year all of the pyromaniacs ended up in the water.
Over the years my Fourth of July festivities have become much calmer. Usually, Terri and I will cookout and then watch on television “A Capital Fourth,” the annual celebration held in our nation’s capital. I like doing so, the entertainment is first rate and the fireworks display is awesome; but somewhere deep down inside of me is the desire to light a cherry bomb and scare the heck out of a bunch of boaters.
“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again.” – Ronald Reagan